Friday, December 26, 2008

Merry Christmas!!

Merry Christmas, Everyone!!
We had a great Christmas, even though it didn't QUITE turn out the way we'd planned. We had PLANNED to go camping, but one of Jason's loser managers called out sick and guess who had to work in his place? Yup - you guessed it...Jason.
At least we had a fabulous back-up plan, and got to spend Christmas Eve with friends. We were invited back to the same home we went to last year - the Inza's - to celebrate a Cuban Christmas...complete with roast pig, black beans and white rice, and yucca. We played a couple rousing games of Scum with the adults (the Inza's hosted 3 other families besides us), and headed home for the reading of the book of Luke and The Night Before Christmas. We also opened our Christmas Eve Elf gifts...that little guy always leaves new jammies for the kids, and this year included a board game, The Pirates of the Caribbean version of Life (obviously intended to be played at our camp-site...but oh well!).
We woke bright and early the next morning, 5am to be precise, to see what Santa brought. We weren't expecting much, as Santa had already provided the tickets to the Orlando theme parks the week before, but lo! and behold! we also had a Wii Fit and several Wii games waiting under the tree, and some VERY full stockings. One of the biggest highlights were the DVDs stuffed in the stockings...2 movies for each person...meaning we have 14 new movies to add to our vast DVD collection!! WOW!!
There were some very special gifts this Mom has been sewing quilts for the kids, and she got both Kaitlyn's and Josephs done for Christmas. They are absolutely beautiful...Kaitlyn's is a beautiful, colorful star quilt...
Josephs has a appliqued dragon on the front, with scales that lift with surprises beneath. Both had matching pillows...
She also made everyone darling aprons for helping around the house and crafting.
Brigham and Nicolette also got new bikes (they had seriously out-grown their other bikes)...
Kaitlyn got a WHOLE LOTTA books; Jason got a new iPod and lots of new clothes...
Joseph got a Swiss Army Knife; Mom got her Book #3 Avatar Box Set; and Savannah got a iMike, a karaoke microphone that plugs into her iPod and lets her sing along to the lyrics and then applause's at her performance...We spent the day in our jammies, playing games and watching movies and eating was wonderful and relaxing and the kids had a ball....Merry Christmas, Everyone!!!!

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Universal Orlando and Islands of Adventure

WOW!!! We just got back from spending a whole week in Orlando, Florida. We were invited to spend the week with our good friends, the Rosales family, at their beautiful condo in Orange Lake, a resort just outside Orlando in Kissimee, Florida. It was SO MUCH FUN!!! Jason was only able to be with us two days, but they were great days. Best of all, Santa brought us an early Christmas present of tickets to Universal Orlando and Islands of Adventure for a WHOLE WEEK!!! And we had FABULOUS luck...the theme parks were practically empty...and we never had to wait more than 20 minutes to get on a ride. Plus, my kids got to meet and greet all their favorite characters...from Wolverine to the Grinch, without any pushing, shoving, or long lines. We rode some GREAT rides, and saw some fun shows, and got to see the Macys Thanksgiving Day parade, re-created on the streets of Universal Studios New York set, complete with falling snow!!! Not bad for an 85 degree Florida day!!! It was definitely a vacation to remember!!

On Monday, we went to Islands of Adventure. We rode their new coaster, The HULK (it's a kick in the head), and saw every show and ride we could. In fact...we ran out of time, and had to leave before fully exploring the kids area, Suess Landing. My favorite memory of this day happened during the afternoon. We had stopped by Doctor Dooms Fear Fall to have a snack, and were sitting on the street curb...all except Brigham, who was standing in front of the group in the street, trying to get everyone to hurry up. Suddenly, out of no where, Spiderman came running around the corner. He looked at Brigham and said: "Hi, buddy!" and jumped over some boxes to disappear in an alley way. Brigham turned and looked at us, his eyes BUGGING out of his head, and said: "Mom!! That was SPIDERMAN!!! Spiderman said Hi to ME!!!!"
On Tuesday, we hung out at the resort...we swam in one of the gorgeous pools with an ENORMOUS lazy river and water slides, and played miniature golf at one of the 3 mini golf courses. When evening fell, we went to a campfire and roasted marshmallows, and then went on a hayride. It was great. My favorite memories were the looks on the kids faces as they tumbled out of the slides, and getting to relax through the lazy river. I needed that!!
The next day, Wednesday, we hit Universal Studios. Again, we started early, and made it all the way through the park. We did EVERY SINGLE ACTIVITY the park had to offer, some multiple times (I think Kaitlyn and Joshua Rosales must've ridden the Mummy at least 8 times), and still had time to catch the Macys Parade. My favorite memory happened on a show/ride called "Disaster". We were all crammed into this tram, and Nicolette was squished right up against me. There was a gentleman seated behind us, and he had a long white beard, round spectacles, and was wearing a red t-shirt. Plus, his wife was next to him with a matching shirt and tight grey curls. Nicolette kept turning her head to stare at him, and when he would look back at her, she would swing her head around forward and just peek out of the corners of her eyes. After a few minutes of this (there seemed to be some delay in starting the ride), the gentleman leaned forward and whispered to her: "Santa needs vacations, too." Nicolettes eyes bugged out and she turned turned to me and whispered: "We won't tell anyone, will we, Mama?" I smiled and assured her we would not. She still couldn't stop looking at him, but now she was all smiles and her eyes were full of light.

Later that day we were front and center for the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade, and at the end Santa comes down in this beautiful sleigh. They even blew snow over the whole set as he approached. My kids were going nuts, after such a great day, and then seeing this AMAZING parade up close with all the balloons and performers, and since the parks were so empty, the cast kept coming up to my kids and giving them high fives and hugs and candy...their pockets were BULGING with peppermints. Anyway - as Santa passed by, he looked right at Nicolette, pointed at her, and winked. She went CRAZY...waving and blowing kisses and yelling: "It's HIM!! It's Santa!!" I don't know if it was the same gentleman we saw on the ride (it could've been...they looked alike)...but it was just perfect and she is a BIG believer.
On Thursday we went back to Islands of Adventure. We convinced Joshua to ride The Hulk and Dueling Dragons...the two fastest rides in the park. He had previously been afraid of being upside-down, but seeing Joseph go on all the rides, and Savannah WANTING to go on and being denied because she is 2 inches too short, plus a lot of conniving from his mom, was just too much, and he caved in. Wouldn't you know he LOVED it? We even got one of those pictures of him on the ride to prove his bravery. The kids got to see superheroes again, and I thought for sure the boys would make a bee-line for Spiderman, but Joseph wanted to shake blades with Wolverine, and Brigham wanted to meet Captain America. Their wishes were granted, and one of my favorite memories is Brigham marching up to Captain America and giving him a military salute. I think tears actually welled up in my eyes... We also spent several hours in Suess Landing, the only area we were unable to see on our first day. We rode all the rides, played in the water area, and saw the show "How the Grinch Stole Christmas". It was great, and once again, with very few people, my kids were able to sit up front and then got to join the show for the finale. We also met up with a group of Who's, who were walking about, and they were happy to pose for pictures, and give us a tour of Suess Landing. They especially liked Nicolette, and played with her in the "If I Ran The Zoo" playground. It was very cute.
On Friday we went back to Universal, and again, we worked backwards through the park. We skipped the shows and went on all the rides again and again, and then ended up in the Curious George playground. We had put the kids in swimming suits, since it is a water playground, and boy!! did they get wet!! The boys had a blast in the Ball Factory, where you fired foam balls from cannons and guns at other people. We finished by dinner time and were able to ske-daddle home and relax. On Saturday, Michelle (our gracious host) went up to Tallahassee to pick up her mom and nephews to take back to Miami for Christmas. The kids stayed with me, and we made gingerbread houses, and watched Christmas movies, and put together a puzzle. I also took them for another round of mini golf. Later, when Michelle had returned, we took everybody swimming. It was a great way to end our trip, and we had SO MUCH FUN!! I was sad to leave...but excited to get home and be with Jason again...
Now that we're home, I have 2 days to unpack and finish any and all Christmas preparations before we head off to go camping for Christmas....yeah, I know... gluttons for punishment...

See ya Later!!

Family Christmas Photos

Here are the token photos of my kids in their Christmas outfits...enjoy.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Christmas letter 2008...for all the haters!!.

Dear Friends and Family -
Another year. Wow. Where did it go? Jason and I keep staring absently at the calendar. Sometimes I catch him mouthing the words as he counts how many days of 2008 we have left. He looks incredulous. And I have to wonder how many times he's caught me doing the exact same thing.
When I was a child, and time couldn't pass fast enough, and 2 weeks until Christmas might as well have been 2 centuries, my dad would sit me down and give me some story about time passing faster when you're an adult. He would say something like: "Soon, when you're all grown up, you'll look back on your life and wonder where it all went." I was pretty sure he was full of it. After all - this was the man who told me he had to walk to school in the snow, barefoot, and going uphill both ways. The man who said he didn't NEED fancy toys when he was a kid...just rocks and sticks. The man who claimed to have super-sensory hearing and eyes in the back of his head. I knew he was telling stories...hadn't I sneaked into his room the other night while he was sleeping and looked CAREFULLY at the back of his head for extra eyes? They weren't there...I was sure of it. So I figured this yarn about time speeding up was another one of his tall tales. And I took up a vigilant post by the calendar to wait for the days to crawl by. Funny...I'm still in front of the calendar...but I'm not bored. I'm completely panicked.

My gosh...he was RIGHT. And I'd been to his hometown...and it WAS pretty cold and hilly, and there WERE a lot of sticks and rocks. So...does that mean he really DOES have, no, no...I'm pretty sure that one is still untrue. I think. I hope.

I wasn't going to write a letter this year. It costs too much to print and send...and you all know that I can't write a short, sweet note. I'm a writer...and I write essays. I have yet to compose a Christmas letter shorter than 3 pages. I try...I REALLY do...but I CAN'T!!! I figured everyone hated my letters anyway - hardly anyone has time to sit down and READ anymore - and I always got a lot of complaints: "Do they have to be so LONG?!?!" So I figured one year off wouldn't kill anyone...they might even be grateful!! But, as my Christmas cards have reached their destinations...letter-less...I have gotten MORE complaints. Accusatory e-mails, concerned phone calls, all asking: "Where's your Christmas letter?". My goodness people - MAKE UP YOUR MINDS!!!! I've already SENT my cards, and it's too late to mail a letter separately, so, although I am ardently opposed to e-mail holiday greetings...this is the best I can do. Please forward it to anyone who might not be on my e-mail list, but who would still like to read about the exploits of the Johnson family. And I promise not to skip a letter matter how much you groan. You're just going to have to suffer. Just tell yourself that I wouldn't punish you all so if I didn't love you. That's another story my dad used to tell me...and I think he wasn't lying about that one, either...

Contrary to plans, the Johnson's DID NOT return to the West over the summer. We tried. We REALLY tried. But the economy and job market and a host of other reasons prevented us from coming home. We miss you all so much, and wish we weren't so far away...but the Lord's plans and ours don't appear to be the same. This isn't actually a new phenomenon for us, and we're learning to just go with the flow. So, we are enjoying paradise longer than expected. To be truthful, it is nice to not have to up-and-relocate again this year. We have spent Christmas in a different state for the past 4 is a very peaceful feeling to have our second Christmas here in Florida. We have made friends that we're not ready to leave, and who, apparently, aren't ready to let us go. The kids are established in school and had friends to return to in the fall. All these things had become luxuries the past few years...luxuries we weren't privy to as we tromped around the country. Although this is not where we ultimately wanted to put down roots, it is where we have found ourselves planted. And as you all know, I'm a "Bloom Where You're Planted" kinda gal.

And now - on to family updates...

Kaitlyn is 14!! 14!! 14!! (Do I need to say it again?) Can you believe that? She is a freshman attending Miramar High, where she was accepted into the International Baccalaureate Program. It has been a bit of a bumpy start, as her professors treat her (and all the students) as college-bound. There is no extra messing around whatsoever without severe consequences. Kaitlyn is pretty used to getting by with minimal effort, and applying herself has been a challenge. Her teachers could care less that she is smart...ALL their pupils are smart. They only care about dedication...and Kaitlyn has had to develop some. Her first semester grades were disappointing...she was shocked that she couldn't get by on charm. So its been a character-building experience, and I can see a marked improvement in her focus this next quarter. She still has a way to go - but I believe she will ultimately be successful, though a little bruised, by time she graduates. She still LOVES to read, and I still struggle keeping her in books. She loves music and is discovering a new She was able to visit Washington D.C, in the Spring as part of eighth grade graduation, and enjoyed the trip. She is eager to try new travel opportunities, such as being an exchange student, and has decided she wants to pursue acceptance at Cambridge University in the U.K. I've started teaching her to drive. She has almost mastered the church parking lot. She has made lots of friends, enjoys church, tolerates early-morning seminary, and babysits as much as she can to buy herself the things she wants. She serves as the first counselor in the Mia Maid Presidency at church. She's a good girl...learning to be whoever she will be. Although the teenage transition can be painful, awkward, and confusing, I can occasionally get glimpses of the amazing woman she is turning into...and I'm filled with surprise and wonder at the metamorphosis. Can this really be my little girl? Like a rocket to the future, it's both terrifying and exhilarating to watch.

Joseph is growing like weed - I cannot keep that boy in clothes or shoes. I actually had a breakdown in Payless as I shopped for his back-to-school tennis shoes and discovered that he had graduated into the Men's section. I stood there, blubbering over the size 6 shoes, while Jason and Joseph looked at me with incredulation and humor. To Jason, its a rite of passage. He was proud. To me, its akin to a little buddy...crossing into manhood. He already reaches to my chin and scoffs at my kisses in front of his friends. If it weren't for his tender good-night assertions that he loves me, I might not be able to go on.

Joseph is growing in other ways, as well. In the past, he has always been teased at school...his speech delay and other learning differences set him apart, and we all know how kids treat other kids who are different. He had a hard time making friends. In April, both he and Kaitlyn got glasses, and I was certain that that would just increase the attacks against him. But, on the first day of fifth grade, he signed up to run for Vice President of the student body. Although he didn't win the election, he was diligent in making posters and gave a speech in front of the whole school. Then he signed up for an after-school sports program run by the local law enforcement. He was always picked last for the teams, but he kept going and tried hard. Today is the final game of the season, and he was actually chosen to play, and is so very excited to have us come and watch him. He joined a Beginning Strings Orchestra that meets at 7:30 in the morning, and rides his bike to school all alone in the mornings so he can learn to play cello. He also joined an after-school Environmental Club, and remains very active as a Webelo Scout in his Cub Scout pack. He is well on his way to earning his Arrow of Light Award. I am SO proud of him...he is such a special kid. He has been so brave this year, and I've seen his self-confidence increase. He has many friends at school and church now. And he is still a hard-worker...diligently plugging away at the things that are hard for reading and writing. I cannot believe that next year, when I write this letter, he will be in Middle School. Looking at him is like staring into the's beautiful and painful all at once.

Savannah is now in third grade, and has Josephs teacher from last year (she moved down a grade). She LOVES school, and wants to be the best in everything. She loves to read, and loves to study. She LOVES seeing those "A"'s on top of her papers. She has to work especially hard at math and spelling, but she puts in the time, and recognizes the feeling of accomplishment when she succeeds. She's always so sweet and sunny - still a big helper at home and at school, and a champion of all that's good. Savannah had a BIG birthday this year...she turned eight, and as is our religions' belief, she was baptized into The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints. It was a VERY special day for all of us, made even more so by my parents flying out from Utah to be there.

Savannah loves to sing and dance, and is one of my strongest voices in Primary, where I still serve as the chorister. She joined an after-school Drama Club, and loves to practice the songs and plays in mini-performances she puts on for us. She has taken to writing little plays that she tries (sometimes with success) to get her brothers and sisters to star in. She loves attending Achievement Days, now that she's eight, and is active in her Brownie troop. This year she was able to go to Girl Scout Day Camp, the Renaissance Fair, and will be attending a ballet of Cinderella this Saturday with Girl Scouts, and she loves the camaraderie of girls her own age. She loves anything that is girly and fun. She still loves to craft, and I often find beautiful cards and notes on top of my pillow from a "Secret Admirer". She always knows how to brighten my day. Everywhere we go, if we bump into a classmate, boy or girl, they rush up and hug her and talk to her...always so excited to see her, so I know she's quite popular in school. My guess is because she's just so nice. If it were possible for a child to be made entirely of sunshine and rainbows, Savannah would embody that child.

Brigham started first grade this year. He really loves school - he keeps himself very busy. In kindergarten, he discovered that he loved centers - and was delighted to find that he would still be able to continue with centers in first grade. His teacher says he is never a problem.

"Now, wait one minute!!" I can hear you say. "Brigham has ALWAYS been the trouble-maker!! Mr. Mischievous!! Brigham Dennis the Menace!! What happened to all the great Brigham stories?"
Don't worry...I don't aim to disappoint. Now, let me make myself clear on something...Brigham IS mischievous, and fiercely independent, and apt to disobey. But he is also extremely tender...he is always the first one to crawl into my lap for a " 'nuggle", and he is loving and tender with animals. He wants to be a veterinarian when he grows up, and spends long hours in his room with all the stuffed animals lined up on his bed, teaching them all how to read. Sometimes I sit in the doorway and peek around the corner to spy on him, and I watch him help his cheetah sound-out a particularly challenging word, or discipline a naughty froggie who isn't listening, or hug a great German Shepherd who feels frustrated. It's amazing and inspiring.

But this summer, we discovered a new character trait of Brighams'. Jason took it upon himself to teach the kids to swim and play the piano this summer. All the kids did beautifully...Joseph really excelled at swimming, his strokes are beautiful. Savannah is especially good at piano, mostly because she REALLY likes to practice. Part of the swimming lessons was practicing holding your breath under water...and the kids would have competitions to see who could get from one side of the pool to the other without a breath. Now - this isn't an average's a HUGE pool for our entire community, and NONE of the kids could get all the way across without a breath. But every time they tried, they'd advance an inch or so, and we'd all applaud their efforts.

Well - one day Joseph and Brigham were playing the game to see who could go farthest, and Brigahm made it halfway. Then Joseph went and made it about a foot further. Not to be outdone, Brigham tried again and barely inched past Joseph. Joseph asked me to try, so I did - and I passed both Joseph and Brigham by a good two feet, but I was REALLY winded. At the other end of the pool, Jason was working with Nicolette on diving to the bottom of the pool for rings, and I got distracted watching them, and didn't notice Brigham get out of the pool, or jump back in and start swimming across. It wasn't until Joseph yelled: "Mom, look at Brigham!!" that I saw him passing me.

The amazing thing was...he's not a GREAT swimmer yet, so he kinda swims a doggie paddle under water. And I could tell that his WHOLE BODY was fighting for air...his survival instinct had kicked in and was trying to FORCE him up to the surface. But through sheer will he managed to repress the involuntary instincts of his body and stay under and paddled, and we all started screaming and chanting his name...and wouldn't you know that little bugger made it ALL THE WAY ACROSS THE POOL...a length of almost 50 feet...without a breath?!?! When he reached the wall, he popped up, climbed out, threw his goggles on the ground, and collapsed in a chair. I was screaming, "Brigham, are you all right?! Brigham!!", but he didn't answer. He just sat there, breathing. Jason ran to him and I could see Brigham closing his eyes and shaking his head, and after a while, with Jason kneeling in front of him and coaching him to breathe, I finally saw his skin turn brown (I hadn't realized how pale and blue he was until his color returned) and he smiled. He finally spoke and said he didn't want to swim anymore, and Jason got up and came over to the edge of the pool where I was holding on, using every ounce of my strength to restrain myself from leaping out and rushing over to him to perform CPR. Jason looked at me with HUGE eyes and a smile that was a cross between respect and shock and said: "I don't know how many brain cells he just killed by oxygen deprivation, but that is one seriously competitive kid we've got."

Nicolette is four years old, but because of a late birthday, she won't go to preschool until next year. That makes her my only little at home during the day, and we spend a lot of time together. She helps me with chores, and we read books and have tea parties and play with My Little Ponies. On Thursdays we attend a Play Group at the park. She doesn't like her hair brushed, and her legs are usually covered in bruises. She loves it when "her kids" come home from school, and can't wait to join this exclusive club of "School". Never one to be outdone by bigger brothers and sisters, she ditched the floaties this year and INSISTED that she be taught to swim. By the end of summer, she could swim half the length of the pool (doggie paddle), and dive to a depth of 6 feet to retrieve rings from the bottom of the pool. She has been learning piano and her name and coloring in the lines, but she seems to care less about form and more about just doing it "herself"...she constantly asks how many more birthdays she has until she can do the grown-up things..."Momma, how many more birthdays until I go to school?" "How many more birthdays until I'm baptized?", "Can I go to my friends house on my bike when I'm this many?". Once, I told her that soon she'd have so many birthdays and be so grown up, that she'd move away and live somewhere else and I would be all alone. She looked at me a second, and her bottom lip started to pout, and her eyes filled with tears. She put her arm through mine and looked up at me and said: "But mommy, I promise to visit you!!" *Sigh* I'm sure it won't be often enough.

Nicolette loves puzzles and coloring and especially painting. We were given a big trampoline in the spring, and all the kids LOVE jumping on it, but she loves to go out and lay on it and stare at the sky and talk to herself. She loves to play dress-up, and often decides to spend her entire day in character. I often have to run errands with a ballerina, or a princess, or a cat, or a pirate in my shopping cart instead of my little girl. With her constantly messy hair, dirty face, and bruised and battered knees, there isn't much that even a Princess dress can do - but she FEELS Princess-y, even if I think she looks like Ragamuffin Royalty. She wishes for nothing more to grow up and be JUST like Savannah and Kaitlyn, and I'm glad she has two big sisters who love her and are patient with her.

Jason is still the GM of The Grand Lux Cafe, and still working crazy hours. He was recently released as Elders Quorum President in our ward, but asked to serve as the First Counselor in the Young Men's there's no relief there! He is still learning to wake board, and loves all things beachy. He spent another summer snorkeling with the kids and getting a tan, on top of teaching them to be better swimmers and play the piano. He goes to the gym as much as is still his best way to relieve stress.

I am at home with my Nicolette during the day. I'm not volunteering as much at the school this year, but still working hard in my Primary calling. I also help out with Joseph's Cub Scout troop and am the troop leader for Savannahs' Brownie troop. A couple weekends ago I had the pleasure of going with Joseph AND Savannah on a 14-mile hike. While many of the boys in Josephs pack complained, Joseph and Savannah were fact, Savannah never complained ONCE. It was a lot of fun.

My mom and dad were able to visit us in Florida twice this year...once in April and once in August for Savannahs' baptism. We miss them so much. Jasons' mom was also able to visit in January, and surprised us with a day-trip to Orlando to go to Disney's Animal Kingdom. The kids were THRILLED, and we had a great time, although the weather did not cooperate for the rest of her trip. We try to keep in touch with everyone through phone, mail, e-mails, and blogs as much as possible.
We hope that you have all had as wonderful a year as we have had, and are just as excited about 2009!! We hope you're happy, healthy, and filled with the magic of Christmas this season. Thanks for all your thoughts and prayers as we've barrelled through this year, with it's many ups and downs. We're so lucky to have so many good people in our lives.

God Bless You and Merry Christmas...Shannan, Jason, Kaitlyn, Joseph, Savannah, Brigham, and Nicolette
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Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Traditions in our Home

Unless you've literally been buried under a rock, everyone knows how crazy our economy is right now. And like most families we know, we've cut back on a lot of our spending. As the holidays approached, we had to decide what we were going to do, and more importantly, what we were going to do without.

It wasn't only an issue with finances...we had a special treat lined up for our kids this year, and we wanted (very badly) to continue with it. I know that sounds very cryptic, but I'm afraid I can't tell you more about it just'll have to wait!!

So anyway - Jason and I had a big sit-down and discussed the things we usually do for the holidays, and decided what we could let go this year. I am REALLY big on traditions...I feel strongly about the bonds they create within a family...and we have several traditions that revolve around the holidays. For example, there are certain foods we always prepare. I usually start baking candies in November, and cookies in December. All in all, I have about 20 different kinds of cookies and candies that I make each year, and I make A LOT...we give them away to teachers and neighbors and friends, take them to holiday events and to Jason's work for his staff, besides the treats we have for ourselves and Santa. Most of the stuff I make comes from my mom, and stuff she made from HER mom and my Dad's mom, and there are a couple recipes from Jason's Grandma, and some are recipes I've gotten from friends or discovered on my own that made the grade and stayed in the mix.

My mom had a cookbook called Betty Crockers Cooky Book that she used to bake from. Every year, she'd let my sister and I pick one or two new recipes to try. I remember sitting at the counter in our kitchen, thumbing through the book with my sister, looking at the delicious, amazing, sugary confections pictured in it's tattered and stained pages, and trying to decide which amazing new cookie we would try. I remember the smell of vanilla and cinnamon and ginger. I remember the sun filtering through the lace curtains in the windows. I remember my moms flour-covered apron and hands, and the sound of the spoon hitting the sides of the mixing bowl. These are precious...almost sacred... memories for me.

A few years ago, I spotted a vintage copy of the Betty Crocker Cooky Book for sale. It was just like my moms 1960's version...minus the torn and vanilla-splotched pages...and I begged Jason to buy it for me for Christmas, which he did (of course). So now I have the pleasure of having my kids sit on my kitchen counter and look through the book and choose a new recipe to try while I bake cookies. While we bake, we spend time together, and tell stories of Christmas' past, and just BE. We laugh, and they try different doughs, and they beg to be the cookie-roller, or sugar-dipper, or decorator. And I hope that when they are adults, they remember that time as happily as I do.

So - hopefully, as you've read through this, you can see what a HUGE sacrifice it was for me to nix several holiday activities around our house.

My cookie and candy making was the first to go...I also decided to not write a big Christmas letter or include a family photo in our Christmas cards (cut down on postage). Another tradition we have is that everyone gets three presents on Christmas - one from Mom and Dad, one from Brothers and Sisters, and one from Santa. We do this help us remember that Jesus received three gifts on his birth from the Wise Men. This year, we severely reigned in our budget on these gifts, which required a lot more creativity. And we opted to give things that were more "needed" than "wanted".

But before you get all sad that we cancelled our Christmas, there were some traditions that we kept in place. One was the giving of ornaments. Every year, everyone gets a new ornament to trim the tree...usually they're from Hallmark...but not always. We usually put up the tree on Thanksgiving after dinner, and the kids open their new ornaments, and we talk about why they were given that particular ornament, and then we hang them up, and add all the ornaments from years past. Its fun to hear them open their box of ornaments a say: "Oh!! I remember this one!! This was the year I was really into Harry Potter!!", or "Oh, look!! It's the ornament I got when I was a baby! Isn't it cute?". My favorite is: "Mom? When did you get this ornament?" which usually turns into some story about my (or Jason's) childhood and ends with the kids rolling hysterically on the floor (they think anything we did as kids was hilarious ).

We were delayed in putting up our tree this year because our artificial tree (I'm SUPER allergic to pines) had a stand that was so crappy that the last couple years, we'd more or less leaned the tree in a corner, and Jason REFUSED to try and work with that stand again this year. So I had to order a new tree stand, and it took about a week to get here...but FINALLY, on Saturday night, we were able to trim our tree. The stand arrived in the afternoon, which was great, because I was able to put up the tree and get all the lights on before Jason got home. Jason usually does the lights, but he's not very patient or artistic, and he just kinda throws them on. Since I got to do it, I was able to wrap them all up and down the individual branches, and put the beautiful twinkling ones INSIDE the tree, and the solid lights on the outer tips, so our tree looks EXTRA sparkly (I can't tell you how many times a day one of the kids or Jason comment on how BEAUTIFUL our tree looks...even Kaitlyn can be caught just standing and staring at it. I must've used 10 strings of took a couple hours). So it was ready to go, and we commenced opening our ornaments...
Kaitlyns ornament is a gift bag with a diamond ring, and a car, and a fur coat spilling out from it. It plays the song "Santa Baby", and if you're familiar with the song, and with Kaitlyn, there is really no need to explain the meaning of this ornament any further.
Josephs ornament is part of a series that I started when he was a baby. It is called "Snow Buddies". I started it because he was this chubby little baby and we called him "Buddy", and the the ornaments were these fat little glittery snowman with different animal friends for every year. We've stayed with the series, but sometimes, if something REALLY momentous happens to Joseph, he'll get a second ornament. I don't know if we're going to keep with the series next year, as he's kinda growing up, yet I'm torn because I hate to end the series before it's finished. Luckily, the last couple years, it has still worked. Last year, for example, the snowman had glasses, and that was the year Joseph started wearing glasses. And this year, the snowman is fishing, and Joseph learned to fish at Cub Scout Camp (which he was very excited about).
Savannah also has a series. It is called "Snowball and Tuxedo", and features a fuzzy baby polar bear and penguin doing different winter activities together. She likes it because they are soft and her. This year, the two were sharing a cup of hot chocolate, which is Savannahs FAVORITE winter treat...and a morning request staple from November to March...even here in Florida.
Brigham got a train filled with presents and treats. Brigham LOVES trains, and for the last few years has gotten ornaments featuring Thomas the Tank Engine. It was nice to give him a slightly more "grown-up" train this year. His favorite part? The wheels spin!!

Nicolette also has a series of little Flower Fairies. This year was the Lily Fairy - and the darn thing actually looks like her. I wish you could see it better in this picture...I've got to remember to take a better picture of it. It's really cute.

Dad has gotten ornaments expressing his interests and ranging from exercising, grilling, home improvement, and playing the piano. This year, he got this cute little ornament of a group of Elves all decked out for a day of watching sports. In case you can't see it, they have ESPN painted across their chests...and yeah - that is a real, miniature, foam finger on the third little elf dude.
I hate pictures of myself. Have you noticed I'm never featured on this blog? But I knew people would say something if I wasn't here is a really terrible picture of me taken by my husband. Lets talk about all the things wrong with it, shall we? Firstly, he took it while sitting on the chair and looking up at me - so it looks like I have massive boobs and body, and a teeney-tiny head. Plus - it highlights my chubby face (note: double chin FULLY exposed) and you can look right up my nose, which is so very attractive. Plus, my make-up wore off, like, hours before while I was putting on lights, so my face looks shiny and red and in need of concealer.
Okay - now that you've all had a lesson on how NOT to take a picture, lets talk about my ornament. My kids love it. It is a little Elf with a badge that says "No Peeking Police". He's standing on an ornament with a motion sensor light that detects whenever someone gets too close to the tree, and then it says, like, 12 different things to alert the "peeker". Things like: "STEP AWAY FROM THE CHRISTMAS TREE!" or " Hey!! I can see you! I'm reporting you to the Big Man!". My kids favorite saying: "Back away from the presents, cookie breath!"
And finally...the finished product...
(See - told you it was sparkly...)

So sue me...

Yeah - I KNOW its December. And I KNOW no self-respecting blogger waits this long to post holiday stuff. But I've been busy. With life.

So here...finally...after a delayed engagement in my camera...are the pics from Halloween. Break out some left-over Double-Bubble (come on - you know you still have some. Nobody ever actually EATS that stuff until it's all that's left) and transport yourself back six weeks...

Here are my littles carving their pumpkins...

The girls went for a traditional-looking fella

While the boys opted for fangs and mutiple eyes...I think its a scary spider!! When it came to costumes, we had a wide variety...Nicolette was an adorable cheerleader...

And I had two very intimidating (in the most darling way) pirates...

And a very scary Dementor-Grim-Reaper-Pumpkin-Head-Guy...I'm not a fan of masks...they're just creepy...

Last year for Halloween, we went to a Panthers game, and Trick-or-Treated there with the vendors and Radio Disney. We had box seats and sat with the mascot for part of the game, and Joseph and Savannah got to be the kid representatives on the Zambonis during a quarter break. So this year was the first year we Trick-or-Treated in our own neighborhood...

And with five kids...the haul is ALWAYS impressive...even AFTER Dad discovers that all the packages of Peanut M&Ms have holes in them (kinda like when I was a kid, and my Mom and Dad always had to confiscate all the Snickers bars)...

We were watching "Hocus Pocus" - and the kids get to eat as much candy as they can during the movie. After that - I hide it and it gets rationed out until only the yucky stuff is left and I toss it!!

Happy Halloween!!!